This is a followup to my first two posts on dreams: Dreams and DreamWork * Silk Road Journeys and Silk Road Journeys * Insight, Guidance, and Healing in Your Dreams
Here, I offer some practical tips on DreamWork and the interpretation of dreams. The main keys here are commitment, flexibility in approach, and being relaxed about recalling dreams.The idea of interpreting one’s own dreams can be a little intimidating.
To start with, lots of people feel they don’t have dreams, or at least simply never remember them.
We know from scientific, medical studies, however, that everyone does dream, and in fact, dreaming is crucial to our health. Here are some simple keys to enjoying your dream life, travelling the Spiritual Path, and getting some practical help for your daily life. With just a little bit of attention, you’ll find you can remember your dreams more and more…and sometimes even a fragment of a dream is enough to prompt new awareness in some part of your life.
Below, I list important first steps as well as a simple everyday framework for analysis of your dreams.
Make A Conscious Commitment
1. Everyone has dreams and many can be recalled, especially once we realize that even small scraps of dreams can be very informative, inspiring and contain practical guidance. In fact dreams can by humorous and even saucy in their “simple” observations about our daily life.
We tend not to recall dreams simply because we have made no place in our life for regular DreamWork. And we are simply not used to the idea of acting on the advice or messages in our dreams. I found in leading many dream groups over the years that though folks worried that they wouldn’t have any dreams for the group, they did, and in fact, sometimes were snowed under with them, once they signed up for the group. Conscious interest in our dreams is a major key in bringing about dream recall.
It is quite remarkable that, once we make almost any kind of commitment to the inner life, and open to ideas of growth, the Higher Self emerges.
It may be a subtle set of developments, but you will see signs of things “picking up the pace”, more synchronicity, and recalling more dreams. The Higher Self tends to want to highlight themes in the overall Life Plan, and then to set to work helping us where we are in, now, in that Plan.
Hence your personal DreamWork may start with a long, “Big Dream” that seems very like a real movie. As in regular meditation (especially the kind where we let Active Imagination* emerge), we will notice repeating themes, persons and images (symbols) in dreams over time. We will realize that we having a “series” commenting on health, aging, relationships, our shamanic development, childhood and formative experience, and occasionally information about past lives, especially those that fit with one another and also have a bearing on this lifetime. So in DreamWork, commitment leads us into a closer sense of teamwork with one’s inner Shaman.
2. Put the Commitment Into Action
Dream recall and interpretation are greatly enhanced as soon as we move our dreams out of our thoughts and into spoken or written language. Setting up a dream journal or joining a small DreamWork group in person or online are great ways to bring your dream life alive. These concrete actions are really seed deeds which plant an intention into the fertile ground of our external, material lives. We are forming a relationship here, as one would when planting any seed, and it is a good idea to tend it rather faithfully – even when not much seems to be going on!
3. Blend Dream Language With Waking Language
Dreams speak in a real, if unique, language. We need to find ways to become more aware of the various forms of its language our dreams are using . Puns and well-known sayings can be quite prominent, and can be spoken in words by a character in the dream, or a bit more hidden in pictorial image – symbols – but they are often the key, the punch-line. These often spring to life only when we hear them out loud or write them out in words.
Writing dreams down or sending a description in an email to a friend can be very illuminating, bringing the “Aha” you were looking for. As anyone who has had to write an essay, a letter, or blog post knows, thinking about something is quite different from expressing it in writing. Things happen in the brain when we speak and use formal language which do not happen in other brain activities.
Something quite different from either thinking or writing happens when we hear the spoken word. The whole You seems to be “listening in” when you are discussing one of your dreams – either aloud (yes, with yourself!) in a private meditation room or with someone else. There is a new biophysiology which suggests that not only is DNA a language, but our body’s cells “hear and respond” to our spoken words…
DreamWork seems to require this blend of sleeping, dream, language and our waking, spoken and written language. When we use this expanded framework of language, we tap into the emotional and spiritual meaning of symbols while given them enhanced power to transform us when we expressing them in the written and spoken word.
4. Accept What Is Given And Start Small
DreamWork is easiest if we work at first with our simpler, best-remembered dreams and let the complex, half-remembered dreams wait till we get more experienced. Sometimes the wispy bits of dreams make sense only after we have had a few more dreams along the same lines – with maybe some help in a meditation or bit of synchronicity.
Work on one or two dream from a dreaming session. Most nights we tend to dream about the same main thing, presenting the situations to ourselves in several different dreams. Remembering one or two dreams is probably all we need to get the main point. Having a journal handy with pen for morning writing – even just a few images and fragments – will really help with this. It may take awhile, but like everything else, a little patience works wonders!
5. Recognize Psychic Dreams and Visions
It has always been known that in dreams we can and do enter into higher states and realms and these often awaken us with the profound awareness that “this dream was different”.
These dreams are more common than we might think, since our spiritual life and Soul are as much a topic of our dreams as are our jobs, relationships, health and growth. So we may well connect with another lifetime, or someone we loved in another life, or with angels, or guides. We may have dreams which clearly predict an event or situation in our life without using symbols at all.
6. The Gift of Dreams and Dream Interpretation
It is worth remembering that in the Bible, Joseph was said to have the gift of interpreting dreams – and that this special ability has been recognized in all cultures and religions since the dawn of recorded history. Another dimension of this gift is actually having dreams and/or visions about and for another person (or even nation), which is another way of giving that person – or that nation – a “psychic reading”.
So it is possible that in a dream group we might encounter someone with “the gift of dreams” or find out this is one of our own gifts. But interpreting dreams can be learned, and what we find from studies of reincarnation is that “gifts” are not so much just handed to special individuals, but begin as the small seeds of willingness to learn, willingness to apply oneself, and then willingness to share the learning. So as we set out on the DreamWork path, we may be setting out on the path to being recognized – in another lifetime – as a “Dreamer of Dreams, and Interpreter of Dreams”, as was Joseph…
6. Use A Simple, Flexible Framework for Interpreting Your Dreams
I have worked with my own and others’ dreams for over 50 years now, and I have found the following framework to be simple, portable, and flexible enough to use as a “Dreamcatcher”. Most of my dreams lie beyond my full recall, but when they slip through the Netting, many prove to be wonderfully helpful, inspiring, and reassuring. Give this framework a try!
Your Dreams As Stories, Movies, Songs, Poems, Drawings and Portraits
A dream is really a work of Art. It can be just a picture or image- a small snippet – that evokes a powerful feeling which changes us, or starts something new within us. It can be a fragment of a song, the words, the melody, and all the associations with that song, even ones you didn’t know about, will all be relevant. You can awaken fresh from looking at an old photo or book title, you can spend the night doing something artistic yourself….
The Dreaming Self really loves to use stories and stages dramas to make its points – in fact, we can see all around us that we love stories, we think of our own life as a “saga”, we love biographies because they tell us a story. Myths and history tell us stories. Our many lifetimes seem to be linked together as an unfolding story, which is why the one-lifetime-only approach to life always seems so flat and unsatisfactory.
What is The Dream Setting?
Dreams have a setting, and this, as in a movie, sets the tone and mood and is a key to the theme of the dream. Are you in an office, in a holiday setting, or in a large mall? Are you in your childhood home, or the home of an ex-partner? Are you in a bedroom or is it the kitchen, the basement, or upper sundeck? Are you in a comfortable place or does the dream “open” with you trying to get out of a foggy swamp? Do you recognize the setting from a book or movie – or something described in a recent conversation? Spend time thinking about the opening scene that you remember.
If you were attending a movie, what would that opening scene tell you, what would the Director be trying to achieve? How would this opening affect your later interpretation of the movie’s events and ending?
So the first, and easiest approach to a dream – even if it seems a bit chaotic – is to imagine you saw it as a movie in the theater. What is the Director’s subject matter in this movie? Why did he or she choose those actors to play those roles, and why does he shoot those scenes in that lighting – and why did he choose those particular settings?
A dream can be a long rambling story, with several segments, or a short one-act play. A dream can be the beginning of a series, as in movies, with the first dream followed by a sequel or elaboration of the first dream, sometimes weeks, months or years later so I do recommend you keep a dream journal. Almost all dreams – like all stories and works of art – do have a beginning, middle, and end.
Dream endings usually feel like a punch-line, a point. We often wake up just as the dramatic ending occurs.
Decoding the Language of Symbol – Two Dream Dictionaries
As noted earlier, dreams tend to use symbols borrowed from the great Dictionary of Life. In fact, I have found that while some dreams will employ grand Archetypes which are recognizable from mythology and Jung’s worlds, most of the time the average person’s Unconscious (and Higher Self) talk in much simpler terms.
Even so, the decoding part of a dream takes a bit of practice and some interest in puzzle-solving. Dreams seem to mask their meaning in symbols precisely because their message is often one that the Conscious mind resists. The Dreaming Self is being tactful – what you can’t handle now may show up later, in a more blunt form! On the other hand, we need to accept that a dream is likely to be giving us a new perspective on old stuff about which we have gotten some very fixed notions. That, after all, i s the role of the Unconscious most of the time.
We may need a bit of a shake-up. So while respecting the mantra that “the dream belongs to the Dreamer”, it can be a good to work in a group. This helps keep us honest so we don’t ignore large portions of a dream which may not fit into our preferred interpretation. My experience is that unless we have accounted for all of a dream’s details and symbols, there is a good chance we do not yet have a real interpretation.
You will quickly discover that you have two Dream Dictionaries. One is your own Dream Dictionary and you will add to this as you become more and more familiar with your dreams and trace out the people, places, actors, and images with which your Dreaming Higher Self likes to associate important values, beliefs and feelings.
Keep it simple at the beginning, but do branch out to at least one old-fashioned Oxford Dictionary , preferably from a used-books store so it is vintage…The Dreaming Self may well wax poetic, philosophical, historical and even witty in its puns and rich, layered meanings, as you become more “dream literate” and older meanings often turn out to be “the perfect fit”.
The key here is that a symbol in one person’s dream will mean one thing to that dreamer, and often something completely different to another dreamer. And, one symbol may have more than one subtle meaning in the same dreamer’s dream…
For example, an ambulance could mean “help” arriving for one person, but perhaps another person had a very traumatic experience with an ambulance not arriving in time and someone dear to them dying as a result. What a difference it makes to know the background to that symbol!
Our second Dream Dictionary contains more universal, well-recognized symbols, shading from cultural stereotypes up to the larger Archetypal versions of Father, Mother, Journey/Quest, World Tree, the Masculine, the Feminine, Birth, Death, and so on. These may present to the dreamer in a quite personalized form – one’s own father, for example – but if the dream is commenting on the nature of fatherhood in its highest, most ideal form, it may introduce a “father-figure” from a movie or book which made a great and positive impression on the dreamer.
Here is where the Dreaming Self gets very creative, for although in my experience it does not draw from classical Myth images very much, it can and will introduce obscure terms from older dictionary means of words or images used in the dream.
And even here, so-called “Universal or Archetypal” symbols may have radically different meanings – and as we know, quarrels over flags and symbols play a large role in political and religious life.
Now, with the Internet at our fingertips, we have access to not just a massive Dream Dictionary but to a world of information which our Dreaming Self can now incorporate into any given dream. The images on YouTube, multiple news sites, news and pictures from Twitter, Facebook, and various “celebrity watch” sites, all enrich the Dream Dictionaries we start out with from childhood and early adulthood.
For a fervent Christian, the Cross may mean something quite different than it would for someone who practices Wicca. A Jewish dreamer would likely associate it with centuries of persecution by Christians. On the other hand, a Jewish person might be puzzled to find pleasant dreams somehow connected with a Cross and realize her dreams were connecting her to a past life as a slave who found peace and liberation in Christianity…
The reverse could be true: A Christian could find herself having unpleasant dreams in which the Cross was associated with frightening events; she could be expanding her horizons to empathize with other, non-Christians, or she could be bringing to consciousness her lives in a Pagan setting to which she might wish to return…
And, the cross has a rich esoteric history predating both Judaism and Christianity, so a little research might reveal aspects of it which would help to transcend all of one’s confused associations with the Cross as Archetype, and thus in this life, break free more culture-specific meanings of this ancient symbol of the Soul’s experience in Matter.
The Snake is also a universal symbol. To one dreamer it can mean Adam, Eve and Serpent teachings about sexuality, temptation and disobedience; to a dreaming scholar studying ancient tablets – as well as to a modern scientist – the Snake could symbolize the origins of life in DNA, or as in one remarkable dream about snakes, an utterly obscure chemical structure.
Thus, the Cross in a dream is like a Snake – both are Archetypes with complex, rich and universal meanings found in the mythologies of many cultures, and in many spiritual traditions. One aspect of the Higher Dreaming Self’s “program” is education: a dream about a universal symbol may be – designed – among other things – to raise one’s level of spiritual literacy by “playing” with different levels and polarities of meanings.
For example, a dog may symbolize loyalty or a faithful friend in everyday life. However, if the dreamer had been mauled severely by a dog in childhood, then her dreams would use the dog as a very personalized variant of this symbol. Going one step further, if we researched “dog” in a mythology text or older dictionary perhaps like the Oxford, we would find that Dog has a specific occult, mystical meaning – a psychopomp – signifying a spirit entity who takes us into spiritual realms and sometimes across the Border into death.
Assuming you are the dreamer who has the phobia about dogs from an earlier nasty encounter, a dog in your dream might represent the psychic you have been thinking about making an appointment with…The dog in your dream might actually be playing the role both of a bad experience AND the classic role of psychopomp.
The dog as symbol here might be warning you about opening your psyche to the occult or psychic energies at this time in your life. This might be because you are not ready “to enter these other realms” – perhaps you have deep religious reservations about dabbling in the occult and getting “mauled” by dark forces. Or perhaps the dog as a symbol is doing double-duty – the child-hood dog-mauling stands for psychological wounds from that same era which have to be healed before stimulation in a psychic session.
So one has to work back and forth between the many possible meanings of a symbol, and even keep in mind other dreams one has had in which a given symbol has appeared.
Symbols Are People, Too!
Dreams are quite homey and gossipy – they will make use of the people in your life and in the news in the same way they use other symbols.
If you think Princess Diana was a beautiful gracious woman who was badly treated by the royal family, you will use her in your dreams as a symbol or message much differently than someone else, who thinks the Princess was a spoiled, willful rich girl who acted out of spite to have her way.
The bulimia of Princess Diana would be extremely important for example, if the dreamer herself was bordering on a food disorder….or if the dreamer were worried about a friend or daughter who might be slipping into bulimia. So symbols are unique most of the time, to the dreamer! The best dream dictionary is the one you carry around inside you.
Yet someone in your dream may represent themselves, pure and simple. You may have an ongoing issue with that person and dreams work on real-life problems as well as mystical and deep psychological themes. However, very often a person in your dream represents a theme – suppose the person’s name is quite striking, like Grace – this is a real clue! Or the name could be a pun – someone named Terry can be code for tarry (to linger – perhaps overlong?)
Dreams Play with Words * Puns, Sayings, Old Meanings
As I suggested above, dreams will also make subtle plays on words! Sound-Alikes and puns show up frequently in dreams. So too, we can often find many older meanings of words in the English (or one’s native) language. I have often found the key to a dream only after consulting a very old Oxford dictionary with a very rich set of older meanings for most of the words listed. It is truly amazing to see how perfectly an older, archaic word meaning can unlock a dream symbol, and it becomes so obvious that there is a wonderful Intelligence that is moving behind and through our dreams.
Interview the Dreamer
Dreams respond best to the interview technique, taking ourselves, or having someone else (preferably) through a step-by-step review of the dream as it unfolded.
It helps to go through once, describing the whole dream as it unfolded. Then, we can go back, and do a step-by-step, symbol-by-symbol interview. We need to find out what the setting was like, the feel of the atmosphere, the way the dream “opens” – exactly as we would describe a movie to a friend. Then ask the dreamer (or yourself) what each symbol means to the dreamer. Here it helps to do this in a quick “first impressions” way, so as to not over-think the analysis. During this second run-through, or perhaps as the third part of the interviewing, ask the dreamer where or what in their real life something related to that symbol’s meaning might be going on.
Gradually, the dream will begin to take on shape. Sometimes there is an immediate “aha!” but even then I advise not to cut short the whole process, because dreams are so rich and there are often important bits of subtext, hidden layers and of course, advice, within a dream.
Be Honest – Because Your Dreams Will Be
If your boss is a known alcoholic and he shows up in your dream about a family reunion – who is the dream talking about, really? What is going on that a “family reunion” might symbolize – are your family members getting back in touch again, or are you, within yourself, starting to do some thinking about old family issues?
If a man dreams that his current boss, a bombastic tyrant, is moving into the dreamer’s home, he needs to take a good look at what may be his own “bossy” demeanour as father and husband. If the same dreamer’s father strangely shows up in a dream as his boss at the office, the dreamer is being shown that a childhood pattern is unconsciously repeating…His father is still “boss” and running the dreamer’s show. And so on…
Dreams Can Try to Get Around Our Stubborn Defences
A woman might be in an abusive relationship and dreams about a Burning Bed (Farrah Fawcett’s celebrated movie), or Thelma and Louise from the movie of that name. The dream is telling her it is time for her to examine – and act upon – a very problematic life situation and her own powerful feelings of rage and rebellion.
However, our dreamer here might not have actually seen either movie or recognize their significance at first. She may have heard of them in passing conversations but conveniently forgotten them precisely because the topics hit too close to home. On looking them up, she might be quite traumatized, having to face their direct relevance to her life.
So sometimes, likely when the conscious mind is heavily guarded against facing a truth, the unconscious can find symbols to use which are vaguely in the periphery of the person’s memory but not directly recognized. This can make dream interpretation for others a bit delicate and sometimes only truly safe in a therapeutic environment.
Stereotypes Make Good if Unwoke Dream Symbols
Dreams will use whatever material is at hand. It may be unwoke and annoyingly stereotypical, but a man might dream about Scarlett O’Hara (heroine of Gone With the Wind) or about Princess Diana and if so, depending on the action sequences, he might be getting some clues, even warnngs, as to the motives and dynamics of a glamorous – but challenging and complex – woman he finds himself involved with. If our dreamer thinks both Scarlett and Princess Diana were ditzes his dreams will work use them as symbols that best warn him he is falling for someone he should avoid.
A man struggling with his gay identity might be liberated by a dream in which he finds himself adopting a small boy who, as the dream ends, he realizes is named “Elton John”…Note that Elton John is well-known, even stereotypical as a very flamboyant performer. This may help the dreamer see that he is accepting of his gay identity but perhaps worried about the “gay image” in society…All the little nuances play a role in dreams.
I am using public images here (and dreams do borrow them for our Dream Dictionaries quite freely); however, it is just as common for a dream to use the person next door, or a friend or someone on the bus, in the office, on the hockey team, and so on. All these people have significant details of which the dreamer is aware, and with some thought, and self-interviewing, one can say “Oh, so-and-so has a habit of…or has just bought a fabulous car…or is going through a divorce…or is annoyingly social-climbing…”
Whatever little labels the dreamer has attached to the people their world, the labels are what the dream is likely talking about, and they will be seen, upon reflection – to be important labels to the dreamer.
What does the person in the dream symbolize that could be going on in – or might be about to go on in – your life? Is your sister, now featured in your dream(s), going through a divorce? Are you afraid your own marriage might be in trouble – like hers? This might be a real warning, but it might also be a way to bring your fears out into the open so that they do not disrupt your satisfactory marriage.
If you secretly feel your sister is at fault in her marriage breakdown, your dream may also be – depending on the way the whole dream unfolds of course – suggesting you need to make some changes in your own self as a partner.
You might dream you are having lunch with Bill Clinton and Princess Diana. These figures mean different things to different people, so ask yourself what your simple, one-sentence opinion is about each. And, since you are having lunch with both, what do both Bill Clinton and Princess Diana have in common?
You might decide they are both people who had fatal flaws which caused them great problems, but still managed to do good works and be loved by many. You might think both were frauds, using public personae to gain wealth and fame they did not deserve.
Each could represent issues of marriage, fidelity and public ambition. Each has become iconic, archetypal in the mind of millions – in what ways do they resonate to you?
Summarize the Dream in a Story Line
Find a sentence or two to summarize the whole dream. That will help you get to the punch line – the dream’s message to you.
Something like: “I am dreaming I have a date with a man I have a crush on though I am pretty sure he is married…I am waiting for him to pick me up. For some reason all the TV channels showing the movie Gone With the Wind, and the one scene where Mammy restrains Scarlett from running to meet Ashley who is married to Melanie…Mammy famously says to Scarlett reproachfully…”He’s her husband, isn’t he?” I wake up irritated because the message is pretty clear but I have been resisting what I already know…
“In my dream I am searching for something, looking everywhere. I feel worried, but I realize at the end of the dream that I don’t care about finding it so much as I am worried about what mother will say if I don’t.” When you hear yourself summarize the dream, it becomes clear that you are telling yourself a simple message: There is something you feel you should keep striving to achieve or have but it is not YOUR goal. It is or was apparently a goal or value which your mother has always wanted you to strive for.
Acting on Insights From Dreams
Carl Jung and Edgar Cayce both observed that when we act on our hunches, or put into action the insight from a dream, there is a quickening of inner life, with more hunches, and clearer dreams. If, on the other hand, we ignore our intuition, and disregard the insights and advice of our dreams, they tend to dry up, disappear from our lives.
So we need to step out boldly sometimes and truly honor, through meaningful action, the messages from the Dreaming Self.
DreamWork is one of the most amazing experiences we can have. We become priests and priestesses who enter a Temple, committing ourselves to a life-long relationship with our High Priest, the Dreaming Self. There is an air of mystery to our dream life, because it is part of the Sacred Mysteries. We have psychic, initiatory experiences every time we close our eyes, turn out the light, and set sail for the distant shores of other worlds.
Carol Leigh Rice © 2022
The HIgher Self is a common presence in all spiritual work, of which DreamWork is a vital part. To begin or continue your own spiritual journey do visit my Travels With the Higher Self.
* Active Imagination is a very interesting state of mind – my mother and I were both taught to do it through meditation, and again, as with dream analysis, my experience with Active Imagination is different from, but clearly related to, that which is described at length in various works of Carl G. Jung…It is recognized early in Middle Eastern, Islamic, thought and relates in many ways to the interaction with symbols found in various mental states of shamanism.